Trading for Matt Kemp

 

It is still the beginning of the off-season and like any good relationship it starts with the talking phase, and boy is there some talk going on. Scherzer and Price up for trade, Ervin Santana and Ricky Nolasco wanting tons of money, and the Dodgers willing to listen on any outfielder not named Puig. That last one may help the Nationals more than anything. The only reason for shipping off the prospects it would take to get Price or Scherzer and then signing them long term is that the Nats believe that Jordan Zimmermann is a definite to test the free agent waters. That he has the lust for gold in his veins and is already set on exploring those options.  

Starting pitching for the Nationals wasn't a problem in 2013. They ranked seventh in ERA and sixth in FIP by starters for the season; whereas the offense was ranked in the bottom three for the vast majority of the season. It was only due to a late surge in August and September that vaulted them to fifteenth in baseball. The biggest reason for the surge was that the Nats starters were finally healthy, and the biggest reason they were near the bottom in all those other months was that the bench was just putrid.

One of the key pieces the Nationals need on their bench for 2014 is a fourth outfielder, but that doesn't mean they need a fourth outfielder quality bat. With Harper and Span both being left handed and having struggled in 2013 against left handed pitching the Nats might be best to have their fourth outfielder be someone who swings from the right side of the plate, and is more talented than the average fourth outfielder, and how wouldn't even be a fourth outfielder. With six or seven games a week and three outfield spots it is possible to have an outfield rotation where each outfielder starts four or five games a week. This improves the bench and the health of the starters at the same time while getting everyone consistent playing time, but you need four talented outfielders to pull it off.  

Enter the Dodgers. With the emergence of Puig and approximately $4.5 billion due to their other three outfielders they are now looking to get rid of one and it just so happens that one of them fits everything the Nationals need. A right handed hitter with well above average production who can play all three outfield spots. Matt Kemp is very much that player and his acquisition could even push Span into being the full time fourth outfielder if he is all the way back from the injuries that bothered him in 2013. The biggest downside with Kemp is he is owed a lot of money. Somewhere in the neighborhood of $128 million over the next six seasons. That is a lot of money to pay for a fourth outfielder, but it is money well spent on a power hitting MVP level centerfielder.

It is a bit of a mystery as to which one Kemp is. The injured Kemp of 2013 was much closer to a fourth outfielder while a healthy Matt Kemp was very much an MVP candidate. It is a $128 million risk, but because it is that costly of a risk and because Kemp is coming off of a down season the cost in prospects isn't going to be anywhere near what it would be for someone like David Price or Giancarlo Stanton. The Dodgers want someone to take an outfielder off their hands and if they have come to the realization that even they don't have infinite money then Matt Kemp is the one they should be looking to trade. Crawford has had too many injured years to have much value left, and Andre Ethier is widely viewed as a platoon corner outfielder around baseball and won't net nearly as much in a trade as Kemp.   

Matt Kemp gives the Nationals what they need. At worst he is a well above average fourth outfielder and at best he is a MVP level hitter from the right side of the plate. They can work him in slow as part of an outfield rotation and ride the hot hand at times during the season. This would work to both improve the bench and keep the outfielder healthier as well as giving the Nationals the ability to start an all right handed outfield against left handed pitchers if Span and Harper continue to struggle in that department. The only question is how much of the $128 million are the Nationals willing to pick up. If it is all of it they won't have to trade much more than a couple mid-grade pitching prospects, but if they want the Dodgers to pick up most of it then we start looking at something much closer to the cost of David Price. In theory this is the best trade the Nationals could make this off-season. The trouble comes when trying to put the theory to practice. It makes perfect sense talent and need wise, but may not make the monetary sense that it has to for a trade to occur.  

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